The very best of Abu Dhabi, as voted by you…
Last night, in the glow of W Abu Dhabi — Yas Island’s sparkling roof, we were joined by 500 of Abu Dhabi’s own bright stars for a ceremony announcing the What’s On Awards Abu Dhabi 2023 winners. And we don’t like to brag, but, it’s a pretty big deal — widely recognised as the city’s most important leisure and entertainment award ceremony.
We honoured elite places to eat, the greatest enclaves of rave, cafés for mate dates, and destinations for celebrations, relaxation and fun. We dished out a total of 40 awards to our winners and 36 plaques to our highly commended outlets. For the majority of the categories we deferred to democracy, the wisdom of crowds, you — the voting public, to decide the winners, but there were also four big prize winners, chosen by us, the What’s On team. These awards went to individuals and venues deemed to have made outstanding contributions towards Abu Dhabi’s leisure and entertainment scene, adding to the reasons that make it such an incredible place to live.
Grand Prix Winners
Restaurant of the Year – Talea by Antonio Guida
Talea received one of the only A ratings given by What’s On last year, due to its near-faultless Italian cooking, creative plates and regal design. It’s an enhanced version of family style Italian cooking, offering traditional time-hewn flavour frescos delivered with a sophisticated sort of fanfare. The venue is a lesson in contemporary grandeur with a little playful personality shining through, which is also what you find on each of the artistically plated dishes. They execute the basics with a level of finesse that isn’t easy to find, and when it comes to the more fancy flavours, few do it better.
Chef of the Year – Ruben Guerro
This Japanese fine dining establishment may have been born in the culinary capital of Madrid, but it cemented its name in the UAE. The man responsible for that, is chef Ruben Guerro, who despite being at the culinary helm of both the Abu Dhabi and Dubai outposts, displays a meticulous attention to detail in each of his dishes. His menu is an uncontrived, perfectly balanced, extravagant in-all-the-right-places, joyful opus, daring to do things differently, experimenting with flavours and revelling in innovation, all whilst maintaining an immaculate scoresheet.
Newcomer of the Year – Maté
Argentinian cuisine has been somewhat underserved in Abu Dhabi. That is until Maté opened its doors in the capital last summer. Housed inside the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi on Saadiyat Island, this split-level restaurant is one that deserves to be shouted about. The rustic aesthetic is cosy and inviting, and adds a touch of gaucho glamour to the Abu Dhabi dining scene. Chief menu USPs include wood fire cooked dishes coming straight from the central open kitchen, each one shining the light on Argentinian specialities, with the occasional, subtle Levantine flex.
Indie Restaurant of the Year – Otoro
Chef Akmal Anuar is one of Dubai’s most accoladed chefs, and for good reason. After departing consistent What’s On Award winner, 3Fils, he embarked on a duo of unlicensed venues in Dubai – 11Woodfire and Goldfish – both of which were instant hits. Last year, he turned his attention to the capital, opening Otoro in Al Qana in March 2022. In the 12 months that have followed, it’s separated itself from the competitive Japanese scene in Abu Dhabi by serving up fuss-free Japanese dishes in a way that lets the best-in-class ingredients do the talking.
Restaurants Above Dhs400
Favourite All-Day Dining Restaurant – Giornotte, The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal
At Giornotte, the focus is on using the venue’s top-drawer kitchen talent to create a blend of fine dining flavours. This truly is a United Nations of the culinary world, with live cooking stations and something to carry a flag from almost every continent on earth.
Highly Commended All-Day Dining Restaurant – Saddle
Favourite Asian Restaurant – Shang Palace, Shangri-la Hotel, Qaryat Al Beri, Abu Dhabi
These arch dukes of dim sum, serve up chomp-sized pockets of pastry, stuffed with intense aromatic flavour combinations, that when pinched between a pair of chopsticks and dipped into some neighbouring soy, light-up a truly unique constellation of palate points. Putting the spiritual ‘yum’ into yum cha, Shang Palace knows how to do it best.
Highly Commended Asian Restaurant – Li Jiang, The Ritz-Carlton Abu Dhabi, Grand Canal
Favourite Brunch – Garage, W Abu Dhabi — Yas Island
The notorious B.I.G. party brunch at hawker-style multi-restaurant diner, Garage demands guests go B.I.G. or go home. Follow the gastronomic galavant through distinct cuisine experiences, theatrical serving rituals, the trappings of the fabled tap wall and engaging live entertainment.
Highly Commended Brunch – The Director’s Club – The WB™ Abu Dhabi, Curio Collection by Hilton
Favourite Indian Restaurant – Zeera by Buddha-Bar
It might be just over a year old, but Zeera has been deliberate about its intentions to conquer the capital’s South Asian cuisine scene from the jump. As part of Yas Bay’s Trilogy by Buddha-Bar, it guarantees you the razor’s edge of refined style, a soundtrack of exceptional taste and big Pier 71 views, but its menu is what’s had most of Abu Dhabi talking in excited whispers.
Highly Commended Indian Restaurant – The Bollywood Bronx
Favourite Italian Restaurant – Talea by Antonio Guida, Emirates Palace
It seems that you, the emirate’s discerning dining public have found a soft spot to this heavily accented newcomer. With a menu running from affordable traditional pizzas, to modern gastronomic reimaginings of Italian classics, Talea – tailor fits, it truly is a restaurant of the people.
Highly Commended Italian Restaurant – Marco’s Italian – Fairmont Bab Al Bahr
Favourite Japanese Restaurant – Otoro
Otoro might be new to Abu Dhabi’s dining scene, but it’s a creation forged in the culinary crucible of one of the UAE’s brightest flames, Chef Akmal Anuar, which is why you chose it as your favourite Japanese restaurant, and we chose it as our Indie Restaurant of the Year.
Highly Commended Japanese Restaurant – Niri Restaurant and Bar
Favourite Latin American Restaurant – VaKaVa, Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers
Latin restaurant VaKaVa is the mischievous twin sister of long-standing UAE favourite, Toro Toro, and now stands in its place in Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers. VaKaVa is described as more well-travelled, with a passionate personality, and that’s exactly what it delivers through its inventive Latin American dishes and striking decor.
Highly Commended Latin American Restaurant – Amerigos, Park Inn by Radisson Abu Dhabi
Favourite Mediterranean Restaurant – Oii
Al Qana has hit the Abu Dhabi cuisine scene with a force 10 gastronomic hurricane. Amongst its formidable plate-folio of restaurants, sits Oii, bringing gusts of fresh Mediterranean air to the leisure mega-project’s waterfront. The name Oii comes from the Portuguese word for ‘hi’ — and it’s greeting the capital with an earnest embrace of Latin passion. Chief Euro eats on the menu include Portuguese rabanadas and everyone’s favourite custard cake — pasteis de nata; fresh from the culinary heartland of Italy, a classic beef cheek Milanese; and a collection of rustic Spanish tapas.
Highly Commended European Restaurant – Fresh Basil, Dining In The Dark, Bab Al Qasr
Favourite Middle Eastern Restaurant – Byblos Sur Mer, InterContinental Abu Dhabi
It’s not hard to find a good Arabian restaurant in Abu Dhabi, we live in ‘Arabia’ of course. It’s our bread and butter, or, more accurately, kuboos and hummus. But you’re not handing out medals for ‘good’, you’re voting for ‘great’, and Byblos Sur Mer, with its waterfront views, epic grilled meats and traditional family recipes, is a perfect example of that greatness.
Highly Commended Middle Eastern Restaurant – Beirut Sur Mer
Favourite Seafood Restaurant – Aquarium
This nauti little Yas Marina restaurant comes from the same team of culinary creatives that are behind Cafe Del Mar, the Trilogy by Buddha Bar and Tiki Pacifico. On the menu you’ll find a poissonate mix of international fish preparations — from spicy Thai soups to crudo plates and ceviches, sashimi, salads, mussels, garlic prawns, paella, fruits de mer platters, baked fillets, pastas and a catch of the day section offering customisable options for marination and cooking style.
Highly Commended Seafood Restaurant – Fishmarket, InterContinental Abu Dhabi
Favourite Steakhouse – Oak Room, The Abu Dhabi EDITION
A sleek steakhouse with a celebrity chef, Oak Room was our pick for Restaurant of the Year, twice in succession. And whilst the streak can’t last forever, the reasons for its selection then, have never dulled. Celebrity clientele, delicious dishes and sultry interiors are just some of the things that impress us most, but there is so much else to love about this restaurant, too: the hidden entrance, the heavy crystal glassware arranged by size behind the imposing bar, the leather chairs and velvet banquette seating, and the atmospheric lighting.
Highly Commended Steakhouse – Ray’s Grill – Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers
Favourite Business Lunch – Mosaic Restaurant, Najda
The king of Abu Dhabi business lunches retains its throne for, we’ve actually lost count how many years in a row. There are now two branches of this restaurant brand, serving up traditional Levantine hospitality, great value and really very tasty plates.
Highly Commended Business Lunch – LPM Restaurant & Bar
Favourite Pub Grub – Belgian Café, Radisson Blu Hotel Yas Island
Belgian Café has unlocked the secret of great pub grub, and it’s a simple formula. Great pub grub is just great food, reasonably priced, with the option of sharing plates. We come to this Yas Plaza outpost is one of the capital’s for afterwork shenanigans and sports spectating, but we stay for the grub.
Highly Commended Pub Grub – Cooper’s Bar & Restaurant, Park Rotana Abu Dhabi
Favourite Afternoon Tea – Lobby Lounge, Shangri-La Hotel, Qaryat Al Beri, Abu Dhabi
Your selection for Favourite Afternoon Tea represents everything that a sophisticated affair should. The Shangri-La Hotel, Qaryat Al Beri, Abu Dhabi is one of the emirate’s best-looking hotels, and their high tea reflects that right back. They’re not shy about shaking it up either, with special festive themes and limited-time deals.
Highly Commended Afternoon Tea – Majlis Lobby Lounge, Rosewood Abu Dhabi
Favourite Café – Society Abu Dhabi
This Jumeirah import has added a touch of caffeinated glam to the Mamsha beat. It’s probably best known for pairing turquoise-hue sea views, with big breakfast chews, but if you’re in the area and hungry for lunch — their flatbreads are palate-top firecrackers.
Highly Commended Cafe – Dot’s Café
Favourite Healthy Restaurant – Feels Juice Bar & Kitchen
Beach body ready, this new arrival at Mamsha Al Saadiyat is giving us all the Feels. The menu flexes hard on a manifesto of proving that the healthiest food really can be some of the tastiest too.
Highly Commended Healthy Restaurant – Market at EDITION, The Abu Dhabi EDITION
Favourite Pizza – Antonia
This authentic Roman-style pizzeria trades in a red-hot selection of Pizza Al Taglio, or ‘pizza by the slice’, with a sourdough base built from organic Italian flour, and it has immediately established legions of devoted fans. Us included. Last year it was our Indie Restaurant of the year, and honestly… it came this *gestures in Italian* close to ‘topping’ that category again, having developed its already audaciously strong menu and burrata’d up its weekly promotions.
Highly Commended Pizza – SOLE, Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers
Favourite Bar – Siddharta Lounge by Buddha-Bar
Siddharta Lounge by Buddha-Bar at Yas Bay demonstrates a lightning strike of laidback luxury with charismatic rooftop views and a menu filled with big contemporary flavours as its big sister in Dubai. Couple that with edge-surfing, cool-as-funk beats, flamboyant entertainment and the refined Buddha-Bar mixology and menu, and you’ve got yourself an award-winning venue.
Highly Commended Bar – The Warehouse Wine & Tapas Bar, Pearl Rotana Capital Centre
Favourite Ladies’ Night – Stills Restaurant & Bar, Crowne Plaza Yas Island
Abu Dhabi’s ladies’ night circuit is vast and varied, and picking one that stands out above the rest can be a tricky task. But for our readers, a night out with the girls doesn’t get better than Stills Restaurant & Bar, with their Ladies’ First Thursday ladies’ night. Whether you perch up at the longest bar in the capital under the twinkling chandelier, or make a beeline for one of the benches on the terrace, the ladies’ night deal here is a steal: Dhs99 and you’ll get four hours of unlimited house beverages and some light bites, served up against the backdrop of a DJ and sultry saxophone. @stillsyasisland
Highly Commended Ladies’ Night – Art Lounge, Louvre Abu Dhabi
Favourite Evening Brunch – Gatsby Brunch, Ray’s Bar, Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers
Found 62 floors up the enduringly handsome Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers, Ray’s Bar hosts a Gatsby themed Friday evening brunch every week and we honestly couldn’t imagine a more appropriate home for it. It celebrates the wild, bougie excess of the 1920s and the party pedigree of the mercurial titular socialite from the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, The Great Gatsby. Famed for throwing the most extravagant fiestas, this Abu Dhabi Gatsby tribute offers table service, live entertainment, a roaring soundtrack supplied by an on-theme double act, and a menu of classic British and international cocktail party dishes.
Highly Commended Evening Brunch – Library Bar, The Abu Dhabi EDITION
Favourite Sundowner Spot – Saadiyat Beach Club
They say looks aren’t important, it’s what’s inside that counts. Luckily Saadiyat Beach Club has merit badges for both, making it a particularly convenient convergence point for saying sayonara to the sun. There is no better beach in the UAE. There we said it.
Highly Commended Sundowner Spot – The Overlook, The WB™ Abu Dhabi, Curio Collection by Hilton
Favourite Happy Hour – Jazz & Fizz, Sofitel Abu Dhabi Corniche
Located on the 36th and 37th floor of this statuesque Corniche hotel — Jazz & Fizz has an appropriately effervescent collection of deals on meals, feels and drinks. Including (again, appropriately) a jazz night, ladies’ night, cheese and grape nights and of course… their king-tier happy hour.
Highly Commended Happy Hour – Velocity, Marriott Hotel Downtown, Abu Dhabi
Favourite Grape and Cheese Night – The Warehouse Wine & Tapas Bar, Pearl Rotana Capital Centre
One of the city’s best loved after-work engagements, The Warehouse, dishes up some tasty plates to sit alongside epicurean vibes. There’s a promotion running every night of the week, and they routinely hit the shuffle button on the tapas and cheese selection.
Highly Commended Grape and Cheese Night – Uva Wine Bar & Lounge, Marriott Hotel Al Forsan
Favourite Outdoor Bar – Café Del Mar Abu Dhabi
It may have been born in Ibiza, but Café Del Mar has grown up in Abu Dhabi. Banging Balearic beats, stunning eats (trust us — try the pizza) and semi-submerged seats — this is where the party is.
Favourite Attraction – Prison Island, Abu Dhabi
Taking inspiration from iconic TV shows, The Crystal Maze and Fort Boyard, Prison Island – Beat the Bars is a an adventure experience now open at Abu Dhabi Mall. Set over a 1,000m² expanse, this is no escape room — it’s a network of 26 individual ‘cells’ featuring tasks each more fiendishly conundrous (shhh, that’s a word) than the last, and you’ll have to beat them all if you want to escape the island, with winner’s bragging rights.
Highly Commended Attraction – West Bay, Radisson Blu Hotel & Resort, Abu Dhabi Corniche
Favourite Concert, Show or Festival – Post Malone at Etihad Park
Abu Dhabi bounced back from its pandemic isolation with a live event schedule that packed triple-A talent into almost every single weekend in the capital. As always, Flash Entertainment were front and centre with the headliners. New venue Etihad Arena hosted some absolute screamers, but it was a more mature one (albeit with a new name) that hosted your favourite. An artist that despite his youthful years, already gives off veteran hall of fame vibes. Post Malone, a genuine living legend.
Highly Commended Concert – Hype Festival at W Abu Dhabi – Yas Island
Favourite Sporting Event – Mubadala World Tennis Championship 2022
Back this year with packed stadiums and tournament debuts the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, as always, was a very special part of the professional tennis calendar. Every smash, ace, rally and lightning cross-court volley watched by an international-drawn audience. Off the court, the entertainment options at the Tennis Village reached new heights. On the courts, Ons Jabeur and Stefanos Tsitsipas took home the women’s and men’s titles respectively.
Highly Commended Sporting Event – Falcon Daman Series By Abu Dhabi Cycling 2022
Favourite Spa – Conrad Spa, Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers
With a city full of five-star hotels, picking a favourite spa could end up being tricky. But when you have the range of treatments (including the popular signature mud chamber experiences), the hammam space with private suites, and massage options that are provided by the pampering sanctuary of Conrad Spa — the choice becomes a little easier.
Highly Commended Spa – Zen the Spa, Saadiyat Rotana Resort & Villas
Favourite Beach Hotel – Emirates Palace Mandarin Oriental, Abu Dhabi
Now officially relaunched after a comprehensive Mandarin Oriental-led glow up, Emirates Palace still accurately reflects its royal title — there’s just a bit more of a modern polish on the chandeliers and statues. The huge swathe of pristine private beach is of course a strong part of the hotel’s attraction, and when combined with the lazy river, mini waterpark, on site watersports, and pair of expansive pool complexes amounts to an unmatched aquatic offering in the capital.
Highly Commended Beach Hotel – Bab Al Qasr
Favourite Luxury Staycation – Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara
You’d struggle to find a better and more luxurious example of ‘getting away from it all’ than at Qasr al Sarab Desert Resort by Anantara. A true jewel of the desert, offering a comprehensive wellness programme, super-luxe accommodation, great dining options and the priceless gift of serenity.
Highly Commended Staycation – Jumeirah at Saadiyat Island Resort
Favourite Daycation – Café del Mar Abu Dhabi, Yas Bay
We fully stand by your decision to crown this recent addition to the Abu Dhabi entertainment circuit, ‘Favourite Daycation’. the Ibiza born hotsport has cemented itself in the scene and we love nothing more than to spend the day kicking back in the Café Del Mar pool listening to top Balearic beats.
Highly Commended Daycation – Saadiyat Beach Club
Favourite Brunch – Filini Garden – Radisson Blu Hotel Yas Island
One of Yas Island’s best-loved, and longest-serving Italian restaurants has recently undergone a comprehensive series of cosmetic and culinary enhancements. It still has its authentic Adriatic cuisine and Tuscan style pergola with soothing creek and golf course views, there’s just now a little bit more to love at Filini Garden at Radisson Blu Yas Island.
Highly Commended Brunch – The Foundry – Southern Sun Hotel Abu Dhabi
Favourite Middle Eastern Restaurant – Kamoon Restaurant, Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan by Rotana Hotel
You’ll find Levantine restaurant, Kamoon at Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan by Rotana on the coastal edge of Al Bateen. And we reckon you picked it for its massive date night potential. There’s the cosy alfresco terrace with watery moonlight vistas for example, the melodic tinkering of a traditional oud player, and a stunning selection of Middle Eastern flavours (including metre long kebabs). Now that’s amoré.
Highly Commended Middle Eastern Restaurant – Mosaic Restaurant – Muroor Street
Favourite Mediterranean Restaurant – The Lighthouse
When we heard the news that popular Dubai eatery The Lighthouse was expanding to the capital, it was music to our ears. Since then The Lighthouse has gone on to win the hearts of many an Abu Dhabi resident, thanks to its fresh, varied menu options, cheerful service and handy location in Yas Bay Waterfront. Well-deserved winnings!
Highly Commended Mediterranean Restaurant – Grills@Chill’O, Sofitel Abu Dhabi Corniche
Favourite Indian Restaurant – India Palace
One of the UAE’s most warmly regarded and consistently excellent purveyors of both traditional and modern South Asian cuisine, India Palace — strives to keep its offering fresh, periodically running limited-time special theme menus. It also plates up a magnificent collection of biriani.
Highly Commended Indian Restaurant – MYNT Indian Cuisine Restaurant
Favourite Italian Restaurant – Paradiso
One of Yas Bay’s leading culinary lights, Paradiso is the latest Abu Dhabi project from Groupe Barrière, a restaurant built on the culinary vision of three Michelin Star awarded talent, Chef Pierre Gagnaire (Fouquet’s) and French-cuisine queen Chef Nicole Rubi (the woman behind LPM), with a gastronomic identity of ‘somewhere along the shorelines of the Mediterranean’.
Highly Commended Italian Restaurant – LARTE Ristorante
Images: What’s On